Edward Snowden Reconsidered
September 13, 2018 7:27 PM   Subscribe

This summer, the fifth anniversary of Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance passed quietly, adrift on a tide of news that now daily sweeps the ground from under our feet.

It has been a long five years, and not a period marked by increased understanding, transparency, or control of our personal data. In these years, we’ve learned much more about how Big Tech was not only sharing data with the NSA but collecting vast troves of information about us for its own purposes. And we’ve started to see the strategic ends to which Big Data can be put. In that sense, we’re only beginning to comprehend the full significance of Snowden’s disclosures.
posted by standardasparagus (41 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thank you Glenn Greenwald for being a voice that Snowden decided to trust when he needed one.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:46 PM on September 13 [7 favorites]


I tend to credit Laura Poitras but either way it wasn't fun to find out that when the nerds win, they're going to be just as awful as the squares they replaced.
posted by Merus at 8:12 PM on September 13 [10 favorites]


Thank you Glenn Greenwald for being a voice that Snowden decided to trust when he needed one.

It seems worth appending Ian Parker’s recent New Yorker profile of Greenwald, as the man has also been undergoing a reconsideration: “Glenn Greenwald, the Bane of Their Resistance”
James Risen told me, “I think that Snowden, and that story, brought out the best in Glenn.” [Ben] Rhodes, disagreeing, said that, given Greenwald’s “Chomsky-like” distrust of American power, “the core challenge here is trying to understand to what extent this was a matter of whistle-blowing on behalf of a public debate about transparency, and to what extent this was just about undermining U.S. foreign policy.”
posted by Going To Maine at 8:21 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


(Also, the Greewnwald profile has a wonderful first line: “Like a man in the first draft of a limerick, Tennys Sandgren is a tennis player from Tennessee.” Ok, sort-of-derail over.)
posted by Going To Maine at 8:33 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


The conclusion here seems confused, or confusing:

Technology is not going to save us. Edward Snowden is not our savior.

Snowden's own values are somewhat technolibertarian, as we've known for a long time, and that's presumably what Shaw means to argue against. But what Snowden the man represents to more people is, I think, the power of the press and the importance of transparency to democracy.
posted by atoxyl at 8:34 PM on September 13 [11 favorites]


I can't tell if I'm dumb or this article is dumb.

A lot of the article seemed very victim-blamey. E.g. it doesn't blame the damage to the US government's reputation and trust on the NSA, which actually committed and lied about illegal mass surveillance. It doesn't place blame on the internal procedures at the NSA, which turned the internal channels for reporting concerns into a trap for collecting and eliminating idealists. Rather it places the blame on the person who finally blew the whistle using the only way he could find. You can pick your analogy, but it's like placing the blame for Watergate on to the journalists and newspapers.

And then there's a ton of unsubstantiated rumor mongering about "well many people are saying that Snowden might be a Russian asset. Also Tor and DuckDuckGo. "

If we don't want Snowden hanging out in Russia, that's fine, we can pardon him like Sheriff Joe Arpaio and have Snowden back in a couple of months. Or we could offer him a symbolic 6 months in jail for the laws he broke, and then honorable freedom after that. Again, it's unfair to blame Snowden for seeking sanctuary where he can, when the one alternative offered to him by the US Gov is a spending the rest of his life in an 8x8 cell (best case).

Anyway. There were other things I'd quibble about, but I don't think the article was fair to Snowden or sheds much light on current events.
posted by Balna Watya at 8:37 PM on September 13 [34 favorites]


When it blunders in its foreign or domestic policy, the US has the capacity to do swift and unparalleled damage.

Also while I'm by no means an "anything that opposes U.S. hegemony is good and justifiable" guy, I have to say I think anyone who reflexively ascribes the malign impacts of American power to "blunders" is Not Getting It on some level.
posted by atoxyl at 8:38 PM on September 13 [20 favorites]


The demonization of Snowden never made sense to me because everything he reported was exactly true. He wasn't inventing stories. He wasn't telling lies. He had actual documents. The string lines between thumbtacks on his cork board were supported by footnotes.

It's sort of surreal that this is all being mixed in to some sort of soup with the modern era of constant fact checking about even the most basic things let alone more clandestine things. And wasn't Snowden's stuff mostly about what the Government itself was doing, and wasn't even approaching what we're now learning about the whole Big Data private corporation thing?

It's interesting how things are turning out. Who next is "crying wolf"???
posted by hippybear at 8:39 PM on September 13 [21 favorites]


Thank you Glenn Greenwald for being a voice that Snowden decided to trust when he needed one.

Thank you Glenn Greenwald for being a voice that Reality Winner decided to trust when she needed one.
posted by dilaudid at 8:59 PM on September 13 [17 favorites]


US Constitution
Article 3
Section 3

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

I think Mr. Snowden fits this definition perfectly.
posted by haiku warrior at 9:02 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Rhodes, disagreeing, said that, given Greenwald’s “Chomsky-like” distrust of American power, “the core challenge here is trying to understand to what extent this was a matter of whistle-blowing on behalf of a public debate about transparency, and to what extent this was just about undermining U.S. foreign policy.”

Did the Snowden revelations undermine US Foreign policy at all? That really just doesn't compute. The strongest statement I think you could make is that it negatively impacted US signal intelligence gathering effectiveness, but I don't really think any of the revelations were a surprise to foreign intelligence agencies. I can see that argument made against the Wikileaks diplomatic cable leaks, but I would still challenge such an assertion asking to see examples of any long-term damage done to foreign relations by those revelations.

To distrust American power is to have some basic knowledge of the history of US foreign policy and interventionism. He makes it sound like distrusting American power is a bad thing. It is not.
posted by el io at 9:03 PM on September 13 [8 favorites]


Greenwald’s “Chomsky-like” distrust of American power

Well now that's just silly. However many problems I may have with some of his ideas, Chomsky can rhetorically, philosophically, logically back his shit up; he is (was? He's ancient) a pretty serious thinker. Greenwald is treading ever-closer to Alex Jones territory and his "distrust of American power" might as well be an Illuminati conspiracy.

That said, Snowden is incredibly important. With the Trump admin cozying up to Russia, I keep wondering when the Christofascists get reminded about the little wrinkle of the boy who cried "unethical surveillance."
posted by aspersioncast at 9:04 PM on September 13 [7 favorites]


"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."

I think Mr. Snowden fits this definition perfectly.

I would say this is only true if you think the American people are the enemy. Do you honestly think that China or Russia (the closest approximation that the US has to 'enemies' these days, although I think the word 'adversary' is more useful) were in the least bit surprised by any revelations that Snowden made?
posted by el io at 9:05 PM on September 13 [25 favorites]


One can also go the other direction, in that being aware that basically everything can be used to spy on you at whatever time and whatever nationality you happen to be is distinctly UNcomforting.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:14 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Did the Snowden revelations undermine US Foreign policy at all? That really just doesn't compute. The strongest statement I think you could make is that it negatively impacted US signal intelligence gathering effectiveness, but I don't really think any of the revelations were a surprise to foreign intelligence agencies.

The argument that the Snowden story didn’t undermine US foreign policy because the intelligence agencies knew what was up is patently absurd. Foreign policy is a combination of a number of factors, particularly optics and perceptions of commitment. (More or less every foreign policy meeting of the past two years has ben a glaringly obvious example of this. Heck, if only substance matters to foreign policy, we shouldn’t be talking about the President’s softness on Russia and instead be talking about the hardness of his state department.) And guess what? Snowden created terrible optics. He’s still creating terrible optics, every day that he sits in Russia as a trophy on Putin’s shelf. We might say that by his helping to bring the dirty laundry to light he’s made the US better and helped to disinfect it with some sunlight, but that really doesn’t do much for you in the immediate term.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:55 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


This piece is terrible. Every time I see another piece of security-state apologism in the intellectual press I die a little.

I mean I should've learned my lesson by now but....

Anyway

I can't tell if I'm dumb or this article is dumb.

No, it's not just you
posted by grobstein at 10:29 PM on September 13 [10 favorites]


the overwhelming preoccupation of Poitras, Greenwald, Assange, and Snowden was the hypocrisy of the US state, which claimed to abide by international law, to respect human rights, to operate within the rule of law internally and yet continually breached its own purported standards and values

this is the thing. the most charitable view is that an obsession with uncovering relative hypocrisy overwhelmed any metric of absolute good or bad for these folks. in this construction, a state that purports to be a beacon of freedom but in fact has a checkered history is worse than one that purports to leave everyone alone but in fact is a brutal dictatorship. why? because in the former, you get to say "i told you so!"

it seems trite to say, but i think it bears repeating: there is no objectively moral actor in the world, and the world of information technology and information warfare is no different. an actor may tell you true information that makes you doubt your own government, but you have to consider why he tells you this, and what he's leaving out.

no doubt a-fuckin-bout it, the dubya security state put together a horrendous national security apparatus in the "war on terror," and obama continued certain (though not the worst) aspects of it. but the people fighting the worst abuses of it were those like the lawyers representing the gitmo detainees, not snowden.

i dont think it's a coincidence that snowden ended up in russia, or that greenwald is so sympathetic toward russia, or that assange helped russia help trump. if these people were truly concerned with human rights, they would not be focused on sussing out relative hypocrisy, they would be focused on shedding light on the worst absolute abuses of power in the world... or at least wouldnt dream of being sympathetic to regimes where those occur. and, by any reasonable standard, russia is on that fucking list.

i think when your enemy shows you photos of your significant other cheating on you, you can consider that evidence and believe it, but also consider why he is showing it to you, and what he isn't showing you. we are capable of having two thoughts in our heads at once.
posted by wibari at 10:39 PM on September 13 [34 favorites]


Totally awful article. There are so many subtle but not at all subtle attempts to discredit Snowden, from creating aspersions through mere association to casting doubts on his motives to some kind of bizarre cooking up of a technolibertarian-far right conspiracy with Snowden at the centre. All of that is not even relevant in the first place because what the leaks revealed was clear and scary, quite aside from who released them or why. This is a serious attempt to further muddy a whistleblower hero by raising all kinds of questions without proving anything while not actually acknowledging the serious nature of what was in all those documents. (I'm not saying that Assange, Greenwald, or WikiLeaks look very upstanding at all in 2018, but if the author wanted to make some point about the harm they are doing by sympathizing with Russia, he could have done it much better without dragging Snowden into it. This is just a hit piece.)
posted by blue shadows at 11:21 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]


but the people fighting the worst abuses of it were those like the lawyers representing the gitmo detainees, not snowden.

oh, bullshit. collaboration is acceptance. Snowden is a fool, sure, but his actions are both patriotic and in the best interests of the nation. People that mistake his (and Chelsea's) feeble gestures for treason, I assume, also disapprove of Ellsberg's actions. We have differing understandings of what is reasonable and acceptable behavior on the part of our nation, and my barricade is over here, and yours is over there, and we will fight.
posted by mwhybark at 11:24 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]


he

She
posted by Going To Maine at 11:28 PM on September 13


Pardon me! Thank you for the correction.
posted by blue shadows at 11:38 PM on September 13


oh, bullshit. collaboration is acceptance. Snowden is a fool, sure, but his actions are both patriotic and in the best interests of the nation. People that mistake his (and Chelsea's) feeble gestures for treason, I assume, also disapprove of Ellsberg's actions. We have differing understandings of what is reasonable and acceptable behavior on the part of our nation, and my barricade is over here, and yours is over there, and we will fight.

sorry I had to quote this entire comment because... I don't even know where to begin with your nonsense.

Snowden is not a fool. He knew a shitload about what he disclosed and knew the risks to himself. I think chances are fair that he did what he did initially in good faith. But then he got caught up in forces he couldn't control, and he didn't want to sacrifice his life over it. Can't blame him for that.

But the point is, the idea that what he revealed is novel or shocking is naive. All countries, democracies and dictatorships, are using this technology to spy. The genie is out of the bottle. What Snowden's revelations have turned into politically is a tool for the dictatorships to use against the democracies, a propaganda device to shift emphasis and change the subject. And the dictatorships are mushrooming all over the world.

So before you get all high and mighty and put up the barricades, you might want to check who is on your side.
posted by wibari at 1:40 AM on September 14 [8 favorites]


But the point is, the idea that what he revealed is novel or shocking is naive.

While I can cynically agree with this, the reaction to the information - its public impact, the pulitzers for the reporting, etc. -kind of give the game away here. The broader public was shocked. Consequently, what he revealed was shocking, and we should re-calibrate our perceptions of reality accordingly. People want better! They dream of better! And so there should be more done to integrate that. James Risen has argued that there is a way to integrate criticism of the NSA programs with criticism of the 2016 election - to decry both things and not simply fall into both-sidesism, and that seems like a good, aspirational goal.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:57 AM on September 14 [6 favorites]


> I think Mr. Snowden fits this definition perfectly.

If you wish to interpret things that way, then most of our senators and congresspeople also qualify as traitors. I think you are cherry picking whom to apply these standards to.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 2:23 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


Some of us would consider most those senators and congresspeople traitors.

As an Australian, I certainly consider most of our elected representatives complicit not just in our own crimes but those of the US, who we continually support both materially and politically. I call them murderers with blood on their hands.

When McCain died, I was sad he'll never stand trial for war crimes.

I may not share Snowden's politics, and am entirely unconcerned with whether he fits some technical definition of treason, but as far as making some of those war crimes known to a broader base, I celebrate that.

It's easy to be cynical and say "oh but everyone's committing crimes against humanity", but that's no good reason to ignore the ones you're provided with direct evidence of. Of course Russia is up to no good, but if he was still in the US working for that security apparatus, I'd not think any better of him than I do now. I'll celebrate a Russian leak too when it happens.

No-one calls me a weird conspiracy theorist when I say that our states are killing innocents every day in the name of maintaining their global hegemony, and as I understand things that wouldn't have always been the case. The actions of Snowden, Chelsea and countless others are a big part of why.

People wonder why young people these days are jaded and distrustful of politics? Maybe it has at least something to do with the fact that my entire life we've been at war in the Middle East and there's ample evidence that it's all bullshit and always has been.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 3:33 AM on September 14 [8 favorites]


Sure, after we execute everyone in elected office complicit in dismantling our democracy, then we can go after Snowden. But that's not the point of labeling Snowden a traitor; he's supposed to be a scapegoat.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 3:39 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Thank you, wibari, for your first comment above, which is the clearest framing of these issues I've encountered in quite some time.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:44 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


And then there's a ton of unsubstantiated rumor mongering about "well many people are saying that Snowden might be a Russian asset. Also Tor and DuckDuckGo. "

I guess that I'm surprised that anyone would think that he's not working for Russia. I just thought it was self-evident given that's where he fled to and his association with Greenwald.
posted by octothorpe at 4:31 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


I think anyone who reflexively ascribes the malign impacts of American power to "blunders" is Not Getting It on some level.

Several levels.


I just thought it was self-evident given that's where he fled to and his association with Greenwald.

Where do you think he should have gone, or do you think he should have let himself be thrown into solitary confinement, like Jeffrey Sterling?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:49 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


Snowden's revelations have turned into politically is a tool for the dictatorships to use against the democracies...clearest framing of these issues I've encountered in quite some time

Woah, what?

Remember that all of these words and labels are large historical abstractions. Wibari is right that morality is difficult to properly couch here.

But if your democracy has become a fascist police state then maybe critiques from dictators aren't just inconvenient, maybe they're accurate?

Never mind that a non-trivial number of those dictators were indirectly elevated by US ops, sometimes even dunce-cap crowned rather directly.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 5:24 AM on September 14 [7 favorites]


All countries, democracies and dictatorships, are using this technology to spy.

It's funny, I don't remember voting on these programs. I don't think I've even had the opportunity to vote for a major-party candidate for national office who was even willing to express a strong opinion about them.

I also think "well everyone knew everyone was doing this" is somewhat ahistorical. People who were interested in the topic knew some things - about ECHELON, Carnivore, what Mark Klein saw at AT&T etc. - but that was kind of fringe and the scale of the data collection capabilities is not something many people would have believed if you told them in 2012. Not to mention the crazy spy-movie hardware-level targeted shit.

And saying "everybody is doing it" I think dodges the likelihood that only a handful of countries have the sort capabilities we do. What you're getting at, presumably, is that it's hard to believe Russia and China don't have some similar programs, the details of which remain relatively opaque compared to those of the U.S. and allies.
posted by atoxyl at 8:52 AM on September 14 [12 favorites]


Quoting my own comment because I went to take a shower in the middle of s thought:

What you're getting at, presumably, is that it's hard to believe Russia and China don't have some similar programs, the details of which remain relatively opaque compared to those of the U.S. and allies.

Insofar as details of targeted foreign surveillance programs go, this is probably not an unfair assessment. It's hard to imagine an employee of Russia's security state disclosing - well it's not so hard to imagine them disclosing these kinds of details but I imagine them disclosing them to the US government, not the press.

When it comes to domestic surveillance, or broad data collection in the name of counter-terrorism, I'd argue that the approach a country like Putin's Russia tends to take is simply to do it fairly openly. Which takes me full circle to why I'm broadly pro-leak - the way democracies get away with doing the sort of things autocracies do openly is by keeping part of the state in a black box that shields it from direct exposure to democracy.
posted by atoxyl at 9:37 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


There've been a few threads recently about events of the last decade or two with comments along the lines of "at the time, everyone thought X about Y" or "people back then knew that..."

Here's what people on metafilter thought about Snowden at the time (link goes to the first discussion about him; here are all the posts under the Snowden tag.) On a brief overview, it looks like a land of contrasts.
posted by trig at 11:38 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


People who were interested in the topic knew some things - about ECHELON, Carnivore, what Mark Klein saw at AT&T etc. - but that was kind of fringe and the scale of the data collection capabilities is not something many people would have believed if you told them in 2012.

The New York Times broke the story about the NSA's surveillance program in 2005, which forced then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to confirm it. That's the national "paper of record", not some fringe conspiracy rag. It was subsequently, widely discussed in the mainstream press thorughout the Bush and Obama years (including, many times, on this very site).

That's not to say that Snowden's revelations didn't provide significantly greater detail than what had been previously exposed, but the idea that this was some wonky underground stuff that only conspiracy nuts or the really plugged-in knew about is just plain wrong.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:37 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


While I can cynically agree with this, the reaction to the information - its public impact, the pulitzers for the reporting, etc. -kind of give the game away here. The broader public was shocked.
Going To Maine

Related to my previous comment, this is also wrong. Well, not th Pulitzer part. What public impact? What shock? The public at large generally didn't seem to care all that much, and after the initial burst of reaction the issue seemed to fizzle out.

I think this is a symptom of being too plugged into the online discussion bubble. People on the Internet really, really cared about this and reacted strongly, but the general populace didn't and doesn't, to the point that today these surveillance programs are a non-issue in the public discourse today.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:47 PM on September 14 [5 favorites]


There's a particular left-wing conspiracy site that alleged that the Snowden leaks were a deliberate move by the security apparatus - "limited hangout" is the phrase they like to use, I think. One of their points was that coverage of the leaks has not really budged policy and in fact served to normalize mass surveillance. It's the sort of thing that makes you go "well, hmm, let's see where this is going" and then the next thing it says is that you can tell it's a distraction because there's nothing about the real issues like 9/11 truth and JFK and you sigh. In general I think the weakness of that theory is - no really, what's the objective that's being advanced here that's worth going to these lengths? Distracting from the real conspiracies and [something something war in the Middle East]? Come on.
posted by atoxyl at 2:33 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


The public at large generally didn't seem to care all that much, and after the initial burst of reaction the issue seemed to fizzle out.

That is not what I remember, but it has been five years. In general I am going to resist the urge to wade into this one, and say simply that atoxyl's been giving my perspective here better than I, a poor writer about video game design, could.
posted by JHarris at 3:49 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]




So people are naive for being shocked to find out they’re being spied on (because everyone does it, I can’t believe you didn’t know that) but also nobody cared anyway except a few hysterical policy wonks and our enemies, so it’s fair to say that the leaks didn’t really help anyone except the bad guys, so the guy who leaked stuff was out to help the bad guys and is a traitor. The NSA, meanwhile, just wanted to keep us safe.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:26 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]


People going on about Snowden fleeing to Russia? I was under the impression he got stuck there because of oh-so-convenient timing on his passport being revoked, and things kind of snowballed from there.

As for earlier surveillance abuses from the US government? There's an awful lot of documentation about it out there for anyone who wants to do a little digging, going back at least to the 70's. To my understanding It's pretty much always been an open secret, but folks like Klein and Snowden flogging the dirty laundry in public was just a bit too much for certain folks.
posted by Enturbulated at 2:16 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]


> To my understanding It's pretty much always been an open secret...

Guys, guys, it's all about plausible deniability in security theater journalism!
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:50 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]


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